Stephen King is known for horror, and/or, supernatural storylines and plot designs, but that is not all that King has put out into the world; a rather impressive list of crime novels published through his career is now joined by Billy Summers, the new Stephen King release for August 2021. This title has garnered a lot of attention across several literary communities so let’s take a deep dive into the novel that is Billy Summers to see why.
“Billy Summers is a man in a room with a gun. He's a killer for hire and the best in the business. But he'll do the job only if the target is a truly bad guy.”
Having served as a marine in Iraq, he was among one of the best snipers in the world, became a decorated war veteran and now? He hones in his skills as a hitman and we meet him at the beginning of the book, in 2019, just about to accept what he hopes will be his last job. Billy has only ever taken out “bad guys” – a term we see Billy, and others, use a number of times throughout the book. This overly simple language may seem a little out of place in a King novel, however, the reasoning for the syntax we find throughout is extremely clever and aids in building the plot for Billy’s story.
" It goes without saying that he has made a living working for bad people, yes, but Billy doesn’t see this as a moral conundrum. He has no problem with bad people paying to have other bad people killed. He basically sees himself as a garbageman with a gun."
Billy, although an intelligent and focussed individual, has his bosses believe that he is a simpleton – dumb for lack of a better word - in order to lull them into a false sense of security. This leads to a very interesting dialogue weaved from scene to scene in that we see Billy as the dumb character, interacting with his bosses in simple sentences with straight-forward meanings, though King has been able to construct two versions of this character running side by side for the books entirety.
"Did you know that you could sit in front of a screen or a pad of paper and change the world?"
Billy takes up residence in the suburbs for this job and is disguised as a writer. King uses this as an excellent chance to show the more intellectual and focussed mind of Billy, introducing full sentences with more complex dialogue and intriguing prose, enabling him to paint out his cacophonous background, his time as a marine in Iraq, and how exactly he got into his line of work.
As many constant readers of Stephen King novels may know, this isn’t the first time that he has included a writer within his writings, great examples of this being: Misery, Lisey’s Story, and The Shining to name a few. However, Billy is a writer for a different reason; it isn’t to sell books and make money, it was almost an autobiography to keep track of his life before his life caught up with him. King expertly explores how writing purely for yourself can be an empowering and cathartic process and uses this to allow for some important, and major character development, for instance, it was here that it was suggested that he recognises he is a bad guy himself and so, in a desperate attempt to find some form of redemption, he removes the bad guys whenever he is given the chance.
"The door to the past is open,” Summers reflects. “He could push it shut, latch and lock it, but he doesn’t want to. Let the wind blow in.”
Although Billy Summers is not in any way poetically written, or intellectually challenging, it is still able to paint the struggles that Billy may face, while equally demonstrating the strong bond that was gradually building between Billy and Alice – a college student who Billy saved after she was brutally attached and left on the street – and addressing the PTSD that both characters now faced. This could have been a moment where this book took a darker turn or could have been inappropriately represented yet King handled this beautifully, noting that Billy became empathetic toward Alice as she reminded him of his younger sister who had sadly passed away. King was able to tactfully, and softly, illustrate their relationship as it grew between the two, with Alice eventually becoming something of Billy’s student and friend.
If you are looking for a crime novel that will pull you into the story and carrying the characters with you, Billy Summers is the way forward.
As John Dugdale said in The Sunday Times, “Disciplined but adventurous, equally good at action scenes and in-depth psychology, King shows with this novel that, at 73, he's a writer back at the top of his game” (1) as well as being a “… twisted tale of redemption ..” (2) then I would suggest you need to get your fingers around the cover of this book and your nose within its pages.
Billy Summers will fully immerse you in a mosaic of war, love, and bad guys, and is worth every minute invested as you settle down and unravel the story page by page. There are easter eggs in this book that give a subtle nod to other titles King has written; I won’t spoil those for you though – it gives you an incentive to read the book for yourself and see what you can find!
*** Order your copy of Billy Summers HERE ***
- (1)Dugdale, John (August 1, 2021). "Billy Summers by Stephen King review — the Shining author is back on top". The Sunday Times.
- (2)Brenna Ehrlich (August 3, 2021) “Stephen King Dreamed Up a Hitman. Then King Let Him Take on a Life of His Own” Rolling Stone